SACRAMENTO, California – California’s urban water users and farmers who depend on supplies from state reservoirs will receive less than planned this year as fears of a third dry year in a row come true, state officials announced Friday.
The water companies, which serve 27 million people and 750,000 acres (303,514 hectares) of farmland, will receive only 5% of what the state has requested this year for essential activities such as drinking and bathing.
This is less than the 15% allocation that state officials announced in January, raising hopes of a drought reduction after a wet December.
But if a wet winter doesn’t materialize and a few more inches of rain fall this month, the January-March period will be the driest start of the California year of at least a century. That’s when most of the rain and snow falls in the state.
Carla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said mandatory bans on the use of water for outdoor activities for landscaping and other purposes could come from local water companies as they continue to struggle with limited supplies.
Local water agencies that know the unique needs of their communities are better prepared than state officials to set water use restrictions, Nemeth said.
“I think with this reduced allocation we’re going to see more urban areas in California move toward a kind of mandatory water conservation,” he said in an interview.
State officials will continue to urge the public to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%, designed to allow Californians to use collective water that was the cause of the persistent drought from 2012 to 2016, Nemeth said.
Statewide water consumption actually increased by 2.6% in January compared to the same month of 2020 due to dry conditions and warmer temperatures.
About one-third of Southern California’s water comes from state supplies, mostly through the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, which serves 19 million people. The district’s general manager, Abel Hagekhalil, said in a statement on Friday that the public needed to do more to save water.
“We all need to take this drought more seriously and significantly increase our water conservation efforts to help preserve our drop storage levels and ensure we have the water we need in summer and autumn,” he said.
California is facing its second severe drought in less than a decade, and scientists say the U.S. West is facing its worst major drought in 1,200 years, exacerbated by climate change.
During the state’s last drought, people adapted their water use, partially tearing down sprinkler-hungry lawns and replacing them with drought-resistant landscaping. Many people are stuck in the habit of conserving that water.
But the resumption of arid conditions in 2020 demands further conservation, as reservoirs such as Lake Auroville and Shasta Lake remain below historic levels, and less water is expected to flow down the hill this spring than the snow melts.
Alan Haynes, a hydrologist in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Nevada River Forecast Center in California, said current forecasts estimate that the state will have about 57% of its historic intermediate runoff from April to July. Melted snow traditionally provides about one-third of the state’s water supply.
In very wet December, the amount of water in the snow is 160% of normal, but this does not result in the expected flow of water, as warmer temperatures cause some water to evaporate instead of melting in rivers and streams. , Nemeth, Director of Water Resources.
Persistent water shortages can have a number of negative consequences for California, including farmers losing their fields and endangering salmon and other fish.
Water suppliers who depend on state supplies have a certain amount of water that they can request from the state and state officials determine how much suppliers will receive in the winter based on the supply.
In December, before the big snowfall, state officials told water suppliers that they would not receive anything they needed for immediate health and safety, such as drinks and baths. The state raised its demand for supply to 15% in January.
Critics of California’s water policy say the state promises more water than it needs each year. This has led to a steady decline in supply to federal and state-run reservoirs, said Doug Obegi, an attorney focusing on water for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“We basically have a system that has gone bankrupt because we promised that there was a lot more water than could actually be supplied,” he said.
Officials also announced plans Friday to seek temporary relief from water quality requirements in the Northern California Delta, part of the state’s reservoir where freshwater rivers and saltwater meet.
This will allow state and federal water projects to release less water into the Delta from the Shasta, Falsom and Auroville reservoirs – the state’s main water supply sources.
Water quality standards are designed, in part, to ensure that water is not salty and cannot be used for cultivation, drinking and environmental protection.